Bobby Hebb (July 26, 1938 – August 3, 2010) was an African American singer and songwriter, best known for his writing and recording of "Sunny".
He was born Robert Von Hebb in Nashville, Tennessee. Hebb's parents, William and Ovalla Hebb, were both blind musicians. Hebb and his older brother Harold performed as a song-and-dance team in Nashville, beginning when Bobby was three and Harold was nine. Hebb performed on a TV show hosted by country music record producer Owen Bradley, which earned him a place with Grand Ole Opry star Roy Acuff. Hebb played spoons and other instruments in Acuff's band. Harold later became a member of Johnny Bragg and the Marigolds. Bobby Hebb sang backup on Bo Diddley's "Diddley Daddy". Hebb played "West-coast-style" trumpet in a United States Navy jazz band, and replaced Mickey Baker in Mickey and Sylvia.
On November 23, 1963, the day after John F. Kennedy's assassination, Harold Hebb was killed in a knife fight outside a Nashville nightclub. Hebb was devastated by both events and sought comfort in songwriting. Though many claim that the song he wrote after both tragedies was the optimistic "Sunny", Hebb himself stated otherwise. He immersed himself in the Gerald Wilson album, You Better Believe It!, for comfort.
"Sunny" was recorded in New York City, after demos were made with the record producer Jerry Ross. Released as a single, it reached #3 on the R&B charts, # 2 on the Billboard Hot 100, # 12 in the UK, sold over one million copies, and was awarded a gold disc. When Hebb toured with The Beatles in 1966 his "Sunny" was as well received as any Beatles tune, as evidenced by tapes of the concerts. BMI rated "Sunny" number 25 in its "Top 100 songs of the century".
"Sunny" has been recorded by, among others, Cher, Boney M, Georgie Fame, Johnny Rivers, Stevie Wonder, Frank Sinatra with Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Electric Flag, The Four Seasons, two different versions from Frankie Valli, the Four Tops, James Brown, Wilson Pickett, Les McCann, Wes Montgomery, Dusty Springfield, and Classics IV. One re-recording, a disco version called "Sunny '76" was a minor hit for Hebb in that year hitting #94 on the R&B chart. In 2000, Musiq did an updated dance version retitled "Just Friends (Sunny)," which went to #31 on the U.S. Billboard charts.
Hebb also had lesser hits with his "A Satisfied Mind" in 1966 (# 39 on the Billboard chart and #40 on the R&B chart) and "Love Me" in 1967 (# 84), and wrote many other songs, including Lou Rawls' 1971 hit "A Natural Man." Six years prior to "Sunny", Hebb reached the New York Top 50 with a remake of Roy Acuff's "Night Train To Memphis". In 1972, his single "Love Love Love" reached # 32 in the UK charts.
After a recording gap of thirty five years, Hebb recorded That's All I Wanna Know, his first commercial release since Love Games for Epic Records in 1970. It was released in Europe in late 2005 by Tuition, a pop indie label. New versions of "Sunny" were also issued (two duets: one with Astrid North, and one with Pat Appleton). In October 2008 he toured and played in Osaka and Tokyo in Japan.
Ipanema Films of Germany was involved in a biographical film which included Hebb, his biographer Joseph Tortelli and Billy Cox.
Hebb continued to live in his hometown of Nashville until his death from lung cancer, at the Centennial Medical Center on August 3, 2010.